Events at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have given rise to a “furious peak” in enquires to the Irish Curling Association (ICA).
Assuming it’s not being confused with hurling, or curdling for that matter, it seems interest in the sport is both genuine and specific. They’re not asking for very much either: just the chance to try out their brooms and stones on ice and the prospect for a little bonspiel.
Sadly, for now, all such curling enquires are being diverted abroad as Ireland remains one of the few countries in the world without a national ice arena. A team of Irish curlers first came together in 1993, and the ICA, set up a decade later, is now recognised by the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and the World Curling Federation (WCF).
The problem is the ICA remains without a home – or rather an ink rink. Former ICA secretary and president John Burns, now their WCF representative, is hopeful that may change in the future, and possibly give rise to Ireland’s first Olympic curling team.
“There is certainly a furious peak in interest with each Olympics,” says Burns, “when we get lots of emails and enquires which we don’t usually get during the four years in between. But actually the interest has been ongoing, in that we’ve been around for 20-plus years.
“And those enquiries have been very specific. Where can we try curling? How can we play? Unfortunately our answer is that until we get some ice in Ireland there is nothing we can do.
“The best chance is to visit Scotland to try it out, where there are 30 ice rinks that support curling, a large number of those exclusively for curling. And we see no reason why Ireland couldn’t have a similar interest in curling, if only the facilities were there. But they simply aren’t, not yet, and that’s very frustrating for us”.
Burns, also an Irish international curler, is himself based in Scotland, just south of Edinburgh, and says ICA membership currently numbers around 60. “Most of us have curled for Ireland by parentage or birth. We also have a member who flies in from California to curl with us, and several living in Ireland, who come across to curl with us in Scotland.
“Mainly what we need is an ice rink somewhere in Ireland. The only one open to us at the moment is in Belfast, and that’s hopelessly overcrowded. We had hoped the Liffey Valley site would be developed, where they were looking to build a full-size rink there next to the shopping centre. Irish Ice Hockey and ourselves were all set to go on that, and then planning permission was revoked.
“Still, Ireland has competed internationally for the last number of years, and won a gold medal at seniors level, over 50s, three years ago, and two bronze medals since.
“So we are in there, in world terms. But what we really need is an ice rink to develop curlers within Ireland. There is the possibility that we may get access to one of the temporary Christmas ice rinks next Christmas and we’re negotiating on that, but that’s a long time off.”
While the sport is occasionally ridiculed, Burns believes strongly in its broad appeal: “We know there are some cartoons and that based on it, but we see that as good news, because 10 years ago no one would have even understood the reference. But now everyone knows what curling is.
“The positives of this sport are many. Firstly, you can play from age eight to 80, and there are players even older than that. Men and women can compete on equal terms, adding to the social element. And it involves both physical and tactical input. The comparison is that the sweeping involves as much calorie burning as the 110m hurdles. And intellectually, the challenge is like chess on ice.
“And we’re very much a 32-county sporting organisation, which means if we ever did get to the Olympics, we would be competing as Team Ireland.
“We already have a world championship title, albeit at senior level, which proves it can be done. The only thing that’s holding us back is the lack of an ice rink in Ireland, and we share that with ice hockey and ice skating. And like us they’re lobbying hard to get that facility.”
Curling has been an official Winter Olympic sport since 1998, the mixed tournament held for the first time in Pyeongchang. And like most sports with broad appeal, the requirements are few: just a broom, broom shoes, the granite rock, and some ice.
For more information on Irish curling see: www.irish-curling.org and www.ipetitions.com/petition/national-ice-arena-for-ireland